Frenzied as ever, the opening stretch of free agency saw a whole bunch of highly talented players change addresses. Most instant analysis concentrates on a free agent's new team, but what about his old one? How will his departure affect the franchise going forward? Will the organization eventually regret letting the player walk out the door (or, in some cases, pushing him out the door via release)?
To put it another way, which player in this round of free agency will become "the one who got away" -- the guy whose exit rankles his former franchise in years to come?
I get why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers let Darrelle Revis and his enormous paycheck go, but I can't help but think that if Revis is back to full strength for the New England Patriots this year, the Bucs will wonder what might have been for years to come. Revis, when healthy (he was not fully there for at least the first half of last year), is the best cornerback in the game. And at 28, he remains in his prime.
Golden Tate leaving Seattle sticks out to me for two reasons. First, he is set up to have a huge statistical year opposite Calvin Johnson on a team that threw the ball nearly 40 times per game last season. Anytime a free agent leaves and immediately puts up huge numbers -- even if they are bloated numbers -- it's difficult for a fan base to digest. Secondly and most importantly, looking at the depth chart for the Seahawks as it stands today, you have Doug Baldwin, Ricardo Lockette, Jermaine Kearse and Percy Harvin. Those four players combined for just 78 of the Seahawks' 267 total receptions in the 2013 regular season -- that's less than 30 percent. Tate, by comparison, had a team-high 64 catches and also led the team in receiving yards (898).
Many will argue that a healthy Percy Harvin will make up the difference, but that is a lot to ask of a player who logged eight total starts over the past two seasons and has yet to start more than 14 games in a single campaign.
A few departures create immediate, short-term problems for teams. In the wake of Josh McCown signing a two-year deal with the Bucs, Chicago must fill a void at backup quarterback. McCown played very well in relief of Cutler last season -- without McCown, the Bears would not have been playing for the NFC North title in Week 17 -- and something tells me Cutler could miss time again. Meanwhile, Jason Hatcher was the Cowboys' best defensive lineman last season -- a shining light on a bad defense. Steve Smith initially will be missed in Carolina -- he gave the Panthers an identity in the passing game -- but his time was drawing to a close anyway.
Plenty of teams squawk about tight salary-cap situations ... only to go out and sign a flock of difference-makers. The cap hell in Dallas, though, is real and led directly to the Cowboys losing a future Hall of Famer. DeMarcus Ware's presence in Denver is a game-changer for the Broncos; his absence in Dallas will be felt for years to come.
The Tennessee Titans might very well regret Alterraun Verner leaving town. When a cornerback is in the prime of his career at age 25, coming off a season in which he allowed opposing quarterbacks a sub-60 passer rating ... you do everything you can to keep him. We all hear ad nauseam that the NFL is a passing league. If it is, then retaining young, developed corners makes a whole lot of sense (cents).
Trading Darren Sproles to the Eagles will come back to haunt the Saints because the running back is set up to succeed in Philadelphia. If Sproles had landed in Tennessee, he would've disappeared. But every time Chip Kelly helps his new toy get a great one-on-one matchup in space, Saints fans will remember how Sproles was one of the quiet keys to their offense. And perhaps they'll remember how difficult he is to defend, should these two teams meet in the playoffs again.